WESTFIELD, NJ — Two new improvements are in the works for a cross country course at Tamaques Park to honor the late Thom Hornish, a Westfield High School history teacher and founder of the girls’ cross country team.
At Monday’s Recreation Commission meeting, members approved the addition of seven new markers that would give cross country runners and the public a better ability to see the distance they’ve run along the 5-kilometer course.
The markers to be added to the 3.1-mile course would be a first step in recognizing Hornish while a memorial for the late coach and teacher — the exact type of which is yet to be determined — would also honor the inspirational force at Westfield High School.
“He was very special not just for the numerous championships his teams won but, more importantly, for the wonderful way he had of making every athlete – from the struggling novice to the elite runner – feel that they were special and an important part of the team,” said Jim McCutcheon, president of the Friends of Westfield Track and Field, who presented the concepts to the commission.
Hornish, who died in 2015 from cancer, was remembered by the track programs as never cutting anybody from the cross country and coached track, several people at the meeting and coaches interviewed afterward said. In addition to coaching cross country, Hornish taught at Westfield High School for 41 years.
“Thom was a teacher of mine, a social studies teacher of mine. He coached the girl’s team since its inception, somewhere around 1983,” said Chris Tafelski, the boys’ cross country coach who has lived most of his life in Westfield. “It's important that we remember the history of the program. Thom was probably the most selfless person you could meet. He had an infinite belief in the potential of people. He was an exceptional educator.”
The Town Council is anticipated to determine the markers’ specific appearance at its conference meeting on July 9, said Don Bogardus, Westfield’s recreation director. One of the seven total markers also has to be approved by the Board of Education as it may be on school property, recreation officials said.
The markers would likely be comprised of stone or wood with municipal officials making the final decision, recreation commission officials said.
“The markers are checkpoints along the course. It allows kids to know where they are,” Tafelski said. “It’s a fairness thing for visiting teams.”
The boys cross country team has a 102-game winning streak in dual meets, said Tafelski, noting the program is in its 16th year. The girls’ team placed sixth in the state at the state meet of Champions in 2017, Tafelski said, who added that he was not then the team’s coach.
“One of the things I value in the course, and for any kid who has ever run cross country has run [at that course], is that it’s a really fast course and of all the courses they will run, it's likely to be their fastest time,” Tafelski said. “It is a fast course with limited hills. Tamaques Park is so well maintained.”
“Thom was always very conscious of taking our program to the next level,” Tafelski added. “One thing he always talked about was how challenging the sport is. He believed in inclusion and that everybody could contribute. He saw his mission was to educate every kid. He taught economics and European history. He was embedded in every aspect of student life.”
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